Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 655
When the district attorney in charge of prosecuting an infamous murder case is himself assassinated one evening in May, the Minister of National Security assigns Inspector Rogas to the case. No sooner is he given charge than news arrives of the murder of another judge in a neighboring city. Besieged by questions of motive and character, Rogas begins to sift among possible explanations.
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When yet a third official is gunned down, Rogas concludes that one man is responsible for all three murders. His conclusions lead him through a series of interrogations and interviews which form the heart of this short novel.
One suspect, the victim of wrongful imprisonment, is found sitting in the sun, reticent, stoic, seemingly indifferent to life. A second man, now a mechanic and also unjustly convicted, has become cynical and embittered, a helpless victim of “the system.”
Rogas’ investigations take a different direction when he is presented with an absurd tale about a pharmacist’s wife who has accused her husband, Cres, of trying to kill her with poisoned rice and chocolate. Discovering evidence that suggests that Mrs. Cres framed her husband, tricking the court system into putting him in prison while she ran around with other men, Rogas pursues the idea that Cres, recently released after serving five years, may now be taking revenge on those who convicted him.
Meanwhile, Cres has become invisible. Though Rogas learns something about the subject’s strange personality from one of the ex-pharmacist’s friends, Cres himself has somehow acquired a new identity, eluding even Rogas’ expert surveillance. Significantly, Rogas begins to develop a sympathy for his antagonist. Convinced of his guilt, he is determined to find him.
His determination is ironically thwarted, however, when a fourth murder convinces the Government that a left-wing revolutionary group is responsible for the murders. Rogas is pulled off the Cres case and given orders to work with his colleague in the political section, an assignment which he views as punishment for his zeal.
His first interview under this new line of investigation is to be with the editor of the notorious left-wing magazine Permanent Revolution. The editor, Galano, is the houseguest of a celebrated writer, Nocio, who has become disaffected with the sociopolitical establishment and has written a poem which underscores in seamy images the sterility and rankness of society.
Galano is evasive, but Rogas meets him finally at the house of a suspected neoanarchist. With them is a top Government Minister; the startled Minister orders Rogas to appear in his office the next morning. When Rogas stands before the Minister, he is told that what he saw the night before was simply a matter of political accommodation, and that he should continue to investigate the “real” enemy, the revolutionaries.
Convinced now that the next victim is to be President Riches, Rogas succeeds in warning the President. Certain that Cres is still his prime suspect, Rogas is shocked when he realizes that the man he has just passed in the elevator is Cres, who, with his new identity, has taken lodging in the same building as the President, the better to assassinate him.
Rogas determines to stop Cres, but he realizes now that someone—the Government, perhaps—is having him followed. He evades surveillance and goes to a cafe where he tells his friend, Cusan, a committed writer and an honest man, everything about the case. Cusan agrees to help.
The point of view now shifts from Rogas to Cusan. The writer learns through a news broadcast that Rogas has been killed at a museum, together with a member of a rival political party. At about the same time, President Riches is shot dead in his house. Fearing for his own life, Cusan goes to the headquarters of the Revolutionary Party for a final interview. There he learns that Rogas was killed by a Government agent as part of a chaotic plot to forestall an imminent revolution.